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I had breakfast at a local coffee house, coaching a young pastor. We didn’t finish until 10, when I hurriedly left for my next appointment on the other side of town. Ten minutes after I left, I realized I’d lost my wallet. I raced back to the coffee house, no wallet. Looked under the car where I’d parked, no luck. So, I headed on to my next appointment, with barely enough cash to pay for my haircut. Still a quarter tank in the car, so no worries there. Got a flight Monday morning, and no driver’s license. What about the credit cards? What a buzz-kill.

I called my pastor, who I was meeting for lunch. I told him I was penniless, and without a wallet, so he would have to buy my lunch. He agreed, so at least I wouldn’t go hungry. As I got back in my car, I looked at email on my phone, hoping against hope. To my great surprise, I had a message: ‘Hello, I believe that I found your wallet this morning. Feel free to contact me for more information. Thanks. Russell,’ and a phone number.

Relieved, I called him. He had the wallet, and the only thing that was missing was $125 in cash. License and credit cards still there. What a relief. He told me he’d found the wallet as he walked his dog at Old Fourth Ward Park near where I ate breakfast. I realized what must have happened is the wallet slipped out when I got out of the car. I parked on a bridge across from the coffee house, and a sidewalk down to the park led from the end of the bridge. Apparently someone  picked up the wallet, took the cash and discarded it a few yards away. Russell told me his dog was sniffing something, and when he looked, he saw my wallet under a bush. Since I was late for my lunch, I planned to meet him after.

I’d felt great about my morning appointment, helping the pastor process some struggles he is facing. I was on my way to another good conversation, when the wallet mess interrupted my day. When I met my pastor for lunch. I could not believe my good fortune that someone had found the wallet and contacted me. A huge hassle had just been diverted. The loss of the cash was minor compared to the hassle of dealing with credit cards, licenses, and airlines. I told my pastor, “I try to live each day expecting God to bring someone across my path, and wondering what might unfold. I always try to explore the unexpected connections, and see what is in store for me this day. I really wonder what God is up to with this wallet guy.”

Who is my neighbor?

Turns out my wallet guy lives in a flat looking down over the Old Fourth Ward Park. I came to the lobby to meet him. I told the folks there who are showing the place that I was there to meet one of their residents who’d found my wallet and called me. Russell arrived with his dog, and I thanked them both for finding my wallet.

I told Russell that in my conversation with my pastor, I repeated a quote from my EMBA director, “The Greeks would say: Character is fate.” I explored the idea that the trajectory of our lives is often determined by the small choices we make each day, and those arise from our values and our character. “And, today, you have shown great character,” I told him.

Russell told me he used to work for the Georgia Tech business school, doing web stuff. He had found me by Googling me.  He knew a little about my work, since he’d seen my blog. After my comment about his character, he told me, “I know a little about you, and I am an atheist myself.” After a pause to let that sink in, he went on, ”I figure is this is all there is, you need to do your best each day.”

I waited for my wife to arrive back home from lunch with our daughter, so I could get some cash from her to take as a reward for Russell. She had $45. When I tried to hand the money to Russell, he refused. I suspected he would, so I said, “Give it to your favorite charity,” I told him. I continued to insist, so he said, “Well, there are a husband and wife I’ve met here who are both seminarians. I could get their information to you if you would like to give the money to them.”

“You give them the money,” I insisted, and he finally took the money. “You might like to meet them,” he told me, “you seem to have something in common.” I asked him to email me and them introducing us, and I would follow up. “Maybe this is what God is up to,” I told him, “maybe I’m not just supposed to meet you, but them also.” I followed up with an email thanking him, and asking him to follow up with a message to the young seminarians.

I called my pastor back, and told him, “I have to tell you the rest of the story about wallet guy.” I told him that I’d had a chance to meet and share a little of my story with someone who is a professed atheist. I thought, “I may have facilitated his first donation to a Christian ministry. God was up to something today.”

I don’t know where this is headed, but that’s OK. My church, City Church Eastside, has a missional community in the Old Fourth Ward. I met with a man for breakfast a couple months ago, from Grace Midtown, and they also have a missional community in Old Fourth Ward. Perhaps I can make some helpful connections for those seminarians. Perhaps I can make a connection with Russell after our chance meeting.

Who knows where this might lead. Our job is to plant seeds and water them. God is responsible for the fruit. As Paul says it in 1 Corinthians 3:6: I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. I just thank God for introducing me to an atheist with a good heart.

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